I suggested he double-check his math. Lief's budget, which he presented to me last week, shows that it will cost more for our little family to be in Panama City, Panama, than it has cost us to be in Paris, France.
How could that be? I asked incredulously.
My husband the accountant assures me his numbers are correct, and, indeed, holding aside the cost of housing, which we're considering separately, it appears our day-to-day cost of living will be higher in Panama than it's been in France.
On the one hand, this is a comment on how affordable Paris can be. This is a place where even a modest lifestyle can feel rich, where the greatest pleasures--strolls along the Seine, afternoons in the Luxembourg Gardens--come gratis.
In Paris, we're happily car-free. We walk nearly everywhere. The butcher, the baker, the grocer, the wine shop, and Jack's school are all less than 15 minutes' walk from our apartment, as are the Tuileries gardens, the Louvre, six movie theaters, and at least a dozen cafes and restaurants. When we want to venture beyond our quartier, we take the metro. For 1.10 euro, we can go anywhere in the city.
Other things in Paris can be cheap, too--for example, telephone, cable, and Internet. Our phone plan, which costs less than 40 euro per month, allows unlimited free calls anytime to anywhere in the United States and anywhere throughout Europe. Hard to beat. Full cable and wireless Internet service cost, in total, less than 70 euro monthly.
On the other hand, in Panama, we'll need a car. Which will mean monthly insurance, gas, and maintenance expenses...plus the cost of a driver, at least while I work up the courage to navigate the streets of that city on my own.
Basic phone, cable, and Internet charges for our rental apartment in Panama City are comparable, in dollar terms, to what we pay in Paris--not including international phone calls, which, again, in Paris, are free to the U.S. and Europe.
In Paris, we pay for heat maybe six months a year. In Panama City, we'll pay for air conditioning year-round.
Groceries are more expensive in Paris, but not dramatically so.
Reviewing Lief's numbers with him, I couldn't argue. For our family, given our lifestyle and what's important to us, day-to-day living costs in Panama City will be slightly more expensive than in Paris.
Then there's housing.
In Paris, you could spend as much as 15,000 euro per square meter to buy an apartment in one of the city's prime neighborhoods and 8,000 euro per month or more to rent one.
You could also buy or rent for considerably less, of course. It depends on what kind of apartment you're in the market for and in which arrondissement you'd like it to be located.
And this is the fundamental point to remember, not only in Paris, but in Panama City...and anywhere.
When we contacted a friend in Panama, a local real estate agent, to begin to explore our housing options, we were surprised by his initial response. He told us about places for rent for $8,000 a month and for sale for $550,000, $800,000, even a million dollars and more.
In Panama City?
I know of people renting apartments in this city for less than $500 a month, and Lief told me the other day about a woman he knows who has just bought a resale apartment, off the water, in an out-of-the-way neighborhood, for less than $1,200 per square meter.
I'm going to show my biases by admitting that I don't think I'd want to live in any apartment renting today in Panama City for less than $500 per month. That's not to say it's not a viable option.
Neither do I, to Lief's relief, want to rent for $8,000 a month. Our agent friend assumed we wanted to be in one of "the" neighborhoods in the city. Lief says I'm picky...but I'm not that picky.
We're putting aside purchase options, right now, and focusing on rentals, for two reasons. First, moving to a new place, it's always wiser to rent for a while before committing to a purchase. The truth is, today, we don't have any idea which of Panama City's neighborhoods makes most sense for us.
In addition, I don't think this is the time to buy in this city, not in any neighborhood. The for-sale market has softened and will continue to do so. Better to rent and to watch.
P.S. I introduced you last week to Jay Snyder, who is spending part of each year in Granada, Nicaragua. Jay shared with me his budget for life in that city. He estimates it costs about $1,200 per month, including a housekeeper, to live a comfortable life here. This does not include the cost of housing. Again, it's best to consider this separately, because it can be as much or as little as you want it to be.
P.P.S. Our agent friend in Panama understood when we explained that we don't need to be located in the city's best districts and we don't want to spend anything like $8,000 per month in rent. He also gave us some good advice:
"Wait until you arrive in July," he suggested, "before you begin your search in earnest. The Panama City market is so active right now that rentals are snatched up overnight. You've got to be in the city, ready to act as soon as a good one becomes available."